HC Deb 06 April 1962 vol 657 cc919-28

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Noble.]

4.2 p.m.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, Southwest)

I wish to use the short period available to me to raise the problem caused by the parking of goods vehicles throughout the night in residential streets in London. This is a problem which greatly affects my constituency, but it is not confined to my area. It covers all London, and, with the growing number of vehicles on the roads, it will increase if no action is taken.

These great vehicles arrive in residential London streets usually at about 5, 6 or 7 o'clock in the evening. There they stay all night, often without lights. At 3, 4 or 5 o'clock next morning the noise of the engines being started begins. This noise breaks the sleep of countless children and denies to residents in my constituency and in other parts of London the rest they must have if they are to do their work properly during the day. Dense fumes from the vehicles enter the nearby houses. Altogether, the nuisance is considerable. Many of the vehicles are high-built, large lorries, some with large trailers, and they obscure the light which should enter the windows of the houses. This practice at least encourages the theft of lorries and cargoes left unattended all night.

Considerable dangers arise from the existence of these lorries in London throughout the night. The camber of roads where these lorries stand is in some cases considerable. Consequently the lorry, or the big vehicle, leans over the footpath and its heavy cargo hangs over the heads of passing pedestrians. Such lorries obscure the vision of drivers and pedestrians, Altogether the danger from their presence is considerable.

Numbers of cases have occurred in my constituency and in other parts of the Borough of Islington with which I am connected on which these lorries have mounted the pavement and smashed paving stones. Lamp-posts are not infrequently smashed. Drains under roads are broken by the weight of these heavy vehicles. One of my constituents has recently had to foot a bill for £100 because these vehicles came on to by-roads which were not made to take them and smashed the drain pipes under the road. My constituent had to pay the cost of having a new pipe put in from his house to where it meets the sewer in the centre of the road. It is clear and agreed that this practice of parking heavy vehicles throughout the night in London residential streets is a considerable obstruction of the highway and also a nuisance on the highway.

I have with me the file of the Islington Society, which is a body of public-spirited persons who care very much for their homes, for the locality and, indeed, for the fair face of London. They are deeply interested in the amenities of our town and of their own locality. The file contains correspondence which has been going on between the Society and the Minister of Transport, the police, local authorities and other bodies. There are a whole pile of letters and correspondence on the subject. Despite all this correspondence by the Society, no effective action has been taken to deal with this undoubted obstruction and nuisance.

I also have some excellent photographs, which show clearly, better than my inadequate words can convey, the exact state of affairs in some of the quieter residential streets and squares of the Borough of Islington. The Minister is at liberty to take these photographs away if he wants a picture of what is happening.

Who do these vehicles belong to? Most of them, from my observation and from the information which comes to me, are owned by provincial road haulage firms. The most efficient firms, the better firms, make off-street provision for their vehicles at night. British Road Services, a nationalised undertaking, with a care for the public and having in mind its public responsibilities, does not offend in this respect. It makes off-street provision for its vehicles. The London haulage firms almost invariably have some yard or place where their vehicles can be parked off the road. It is fair to submit that most, if not all, of these vehicles are owned by the less efficient provincial road haulage firms.

These lorries carry goods between their provincial centres and London. They move between their provincial centres—Bolton, Glasgow, Warrington, Leeds, or wherever it may be—to London and through London. They go from London to the south or the west, as the case may be. They pursue their business without the least regard for the Metropolitan centre, or for the rights of the residents of many London localities.

The Minister knows about this problem, the police are well acquainted with it, and the local authorities in the Metropolitan area are fully apprised of it. We all know about it. We all agree that the problem will grow with the increasing number of vehicles, and we must find a remedy if we can. The Ministry of Transport faces many problems. We are in the midst of a minor transport revolution, so the Ministry has to try to deal with many and considerable problems, and this is one of them.

The Ministry has set up a working party, and we have recently been told by the Parliamentary Secretary that it will report in due course and that its report will serve as a guide for Ministry action. That is all to the good. It shows that the Ministry is alive to the problem. If the Parliamentary Secretary can now assure the House that he will soon be able to bring in regulations, or deal effectively with the matter in some other way, it will be a great relief to the many people who now suffer from this nuisance and obstruction. It will not be enough for the Parliamentary Secretary to say that under some Section of the Road Traffic Acts the local authorities themselves can deal with the matter. It is just beyond their resources.

The Ministry arranged for land in the Royal Park of Hyde Park to be made available for an underground garage, and arranged for the necessary capital finance for that project. If the Ministry were to say that it would find the necessary space, and arrange the capital finance, for off-street parking places for these lorries in various parts of London it would be reasonable, and the local authorities would co-operate. Left to themselves, the local authorities cannot effectively cope. But even if off-street parking places were provided, would it not be a waste of public money? Could the lorries be compelled to use them? I doubt it very much. I very much doubt whether we can consider a solution along the lines of housing these vehicles all night in the congested central area of London.

I want now to deal with the position of the police. This question must affect the Home Office, and I am glad to see that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary is present now. I realise that the police have crime and other serious duties to occupy their time and that the force is under-manned. Nevertheless, obstruction of the highway and nuisance is a matter with which the police deal and I know that they do their best. They do all they can to alleviate the anxiety of people affected in the way I have described.

I recently spoke with a police inspector in my constituency, and from that discussion I learned that the police do all they can to help and that when they receive a complaint the offending vehicle is moved on, perhaps to another street, possibly to another borough, and probably into the area of another police division. The police do all they can, but the problem remains. It seems, therefore, that it might be worth while considering some collective action by the Metropolitan Police divisions so that they have a common policy to deal with these vehicles throughout the Metropolis.

Perhaps the Commissioner of Police could consider this matter. If he could devise such a general policy of shepherding lorries outside the Metropolitan area that might be a practical and immediate step towards finding a final solution. It might also save the Ministry of Transport a headache in the future. Vehicles could be shepherded outside the London area for their all-night stops, because I understand that there is no necessity for most of them to stay in London all night. These vehicles move from their provincial headquarters into the docks or to parts beyond London, and I would have thought that it would be possible for them, when they must make an overnight stop, to pull in either before they enter or after they leave London.

As I say, these vehicles do not generally circulate in London. They are normally long-distance lorries which come from the provinces to London and beyond and then return to their home operating centres. Thus they could be moved on by the Metropolitan police to transport cafes and other suitable places outside the Metropolis. In any case, the details of these vehicles' journeys are easily available to the police from the drivers' record books and licences. These documents indicate to where a lorry is going and from where it came.

That would be a first practical step to grappling with this problem, but it would require the co-operation of all police divisions in the Metropolitan area. Not only is this a serious problem, but it will grow in the future. It must be dealt with sooner or later, and better that we should deal with it now. These parked vehicles cause vexation and anger to the public, and I urge the Minister to take immediate action and to not merely wait for the report of the Working Party and the consequential laying of an Order.

Let us approach this problem from a practical point of view. The police already have power to act in cases of obstruction and nuisance and we must do something more for the centre of London cannot go on indefinitely becoming more congested. For the sake of the life of the capital, we must ease congestion wherever we can. I know that essential traffic must perform an essential task in the metropolitan area, but vehicles which are merely birds of passage from one part of the country to another should not be allowed to stay all night in our residential streets to the discomfort of residents and adding to congestion.

I hope that the police will be able to give some thought to my suggestion, and I hope also that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to assure us that he is considering some order or some step which will deal with the matter permanently.

4.21 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

This is not the first time that this problem has been raised. The hon. Members for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), Brixton (Mr. Lipton) and others have brought it to the attention of this House at different times.

With respect to the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans), I want to begin by placing the responsibility for dealing with this problem exactly where it should lie. He seemed to think that this was not a problem for the local authorities. Whether it be a problem for the local authorities or not, one thing is crystal clear and that is that it is not a problem solely for my right hon. Friend and the Government to deal with, because a large number of other people are involved here. Certainly the local authorities are interested. The traders whose vehicles these are, are interested. The police are interested, as the hon. Gentleman says. My right hon. Friend as Minister of Transport has an overall interest, but not a direct responsibility for finding a solution. Nevertheless we have over the course of the last few months brought our attention to bear on this problem to see what we could do to help.

Before I turn to what we are trying to do in this respect, may I say a word about the nature of the problem itself? It is, of course, a nuisance to have heavy vehicles and lorries waiting overnight and blocking small residential streets which were never designed for them, but, with respect to the hon. Gentleman, it is rather unrealistic to say that these lorries in effect should not come into London at all. We must remember that they are here to do a particular job which assists the national economy. Road haulage is a very essential part of the economy of our country.

These lorries come into London for a specific purpose, principally so that they can load or unload, either early in the morning or late at night. Therefore, whatever solution we find must be one that does not hamper trade. I honestly do not think that it is the right course to suggest that these lorries should not be allowed to come into London at all. The problem of enforcement of any such scheme, incidentally, would be extremely great. I cannot see how one would be able to stop lorries coming into the centre of London.

We must remember, too, that one of the reasons why these lorries stay overnight is that the drivers stay in London. Either their homes are there—and this is frequently the case, even with lorries which are based in the provinces—or else there are lorry drivers' hostels, where they sleep overnight ready to start their job in the morning, in the immediate vicinity where they leave their lorries. All these considerations have to be taken into account.

Because some of the bodies which we consider to be primarily responsible fail to take action on their own initiative, in April, 1961 my right hon. Friend decided that we would have to see if there was some kind of positive action which we could take. We therefore commenced a detailed investigation into this problem of overnight lorry parking. We set up, as the hon. Gentleman has told the House, a departmental working party to look into this, and we asked Mr. Alex Samuels, who is well known to hon. Members, to act as its chairman. The members of the Working Party comprise officials of the Ministry of Transport and the Metropolitan Police. The working party decided to concentrate its attention, to begin with, on the Tooley Street area in Bermondsey, where the problem is particularly acute. I have here information which shows that in that area up to 900 lorries a day may call at the wharves, and some of them may have to wait more than a day before they can load and unload. We felt that in that area there was an acute problem which needed looking into.

The Working Party has invited bodies which are interested to discuss their individual aspects of the problem and to collect information. We have seen the London County Council, the Metropolitan boroughs concerned, the road haulage organisations, the associations of wharfingers and the car-parking firms—because there are some car-parking facilities in the area which might be extended. In respect of the problem of obstruction to fire engines and ambulances, we have also been in touch with the Home Office and the London Fire Brigade. We are trying to collect as much information and to get as much support as we can for a concerted approach to the problem.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

Has the Minister consulted the trade unions concerned?

Mr. Hay

Not at this stage. There is nothing sinister in that. It is simply that we want first to see the practical on-the-ground situation.

Mr. Lewis

I was not suggesting that there was anything sinister about it, but the Minister said that some of these men park their lorries in order that they may sleep in their own beds. I agree. He should therefore consult the unions, because the men have a voice which ought to be heard.

Mr. Hay

We have not ruled that out. I am not saying that the unions will not be consulted. But we want first to find out what is the practical physical situation, and that is why we have consulted the bodies which seemed to us at this stage to be particularly concerned. I do not pretend that we can find any very quick solutions, because it is a difficult problem to solve in the absence of space. What we want is a number of lorry parks throughout various parts of London where this problem is particularly acute.

Mr. Lewis

Bombed sites.

Mr. Hay

Bombed sites possibly, but it might be more than that; it might even be two or three-storey parks for lorries. This may be a difficult thing to arrange, and in any event it would be expensive, but what is certain is that we cannot let the situation go on as it is.

It would not be enough to rely on existing prohibitions against car parking and against obstruction and simply to turn the whole job over to the police, as the hon. Member for Islington, Southwest seemed to think might suit. The general restrictions in residential areas would be very unpopular with some of the residents, and I do not think that that is a simple solution to the problem. We have to take a wide look at the problem and to try to find a solution, if we can, which does not hamper trade.

The responsibility normally for providing off-street car parking lies with the local authority, but we think that here the hauliers themselves and the operators at focal points such as wharves and docks also have an important part to play. It may well be that private enterprise, too, could come into the picture and could help. It is certainly not a central government responsibility, and our job is to bring home to the interested bodies the facts of the case and to make it clear that they have to shoulder their responsibilities.

May I say a word about the enforcement problem? As the hon. Member realises, questions for the police are not for me but for the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who was here during the debate and who listened to what the hon. Member said. I am advised that the Home Office views can be summarised in the following way: the only real solution to the problem is the provision of more off-street parking accommodation, and until some further progress can be made in this direction the police feel that the extent to which they could justifiably take action is limited. Nevertheless, as far as their other commitments allow they continue to take such action as is possible to prevent the improper use of the highway and to maintain free passage for other vehicles.

The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police a few months ago issued a Press notice drawing attention to the fact that heavy goods vehicles must always have their lights on when left on the road during hours of darkness, but until more room can be found for the accommodation of these vehicles off the road the Commissioner regards it as the lesser of two evils that they should park in residential side streets rather than in the main thoroughfares, where they would cause considerably greater damage. Generally speaking, those are the views of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

The hon. Member may have thought from what I have said that we are somewhat complacent about this problem, but I can assure him that it is not so. For the first time in the history of this capital the Ministry of Transport is taking action to bring all the people associated with this sort of problem together to try to get them to work out an agreed solution. We shall use our good offices and do whatever we can to help, but beyond that I am afraid my right hon. Friend's responsibilities do not extend.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine Minutes to Five o'clock.